‘The Bluest Eye’ challenges society’s views of perfection

Written By Emily Bennett

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photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Playhouse
Aenya Ulke (Darlene), Perris Drew (Cholly Breedlove), share a moment onstage during the production of “The Bluest Eye” at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse in the Rauh Theatre.

 

The coming-of-age drama “The Bluest Eye,” which runs Feb. 25-28 and Mar. 10-13 in the Rauh Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland, compels audiences to reassess their perceptions of beauty and justice in modern America.

Teeming with raw social commentary, the drama is based on the book by Toni Morrison and directed by the founder of Theater Lumina, Monica Payne. It addresses the issues and difficulties surrounding race and self-worth that remain present in society today. 

The production, which takes place in post-depression Lorain, Ohio follows the story of the young and unendingly sad Pecola, played by junior acting major Toree Alexandre, who longs for the blue eyes and blonde hair of a white girl. The show allows audiences to have a glimpse at the world through Pecola’s perspective and experience her personal journey in an attempt to relate to the human vulnerabilities we all share. 

“I love the eloquence and poetic nature of Toni Morrison’s words,” Alexandre said in a phone interview Sunday. “It is a stark example of the ramifications of white oppression. Pecola’s desperate desire to have the blue eyes of a white person…it’s such a tragic story. Eventually, Pecola’s journey through puberty, neglect, bullying and rape force her to create her own alternate reality where she gets those blue eyes she longed for.” 

Audiences follow Pecola as she ventures through poverty-stricken Ohio alone, save for two classmates who she finds refuge in when her abusive father sets their home on fire during a drunken rampage. These two classmates and sisters, played by Point Park students Kendall Claxton and Saige Smith, find Pecola strange but misunderstood. Together, the three girls bond over penny candy and jump rope, a shared love and hatred for Shirley Temple and staying out of trouble to keep the sisters’ strict yet adoring mother content. 

Mama, played by sophomore theater major Aniyah Thomas, is characterized by her sweetness and unbending, strong-willed nature. 

“She’s a stern character, but she has a lot of love at her core,” Thomas said in a phone interview Thursday. “She wants the best for Claudia and Freida [Claxton and Smith], even though she whips them and even though she’s very particular about how she wants things done. Underneath all of those stern, hard words lies pure love.” 

Thomas said playing a character that was so different from herself for her first production at Point Park presented challenges.

“Mama is definitely a challenge for me. She’s very different from me. She’s very strong and she knows her place in the world,” Thomas said. “I feel like Mama has a lot of things figured out. It’s interesting to come into this character and become her. It’s making me a stronger and more grounded person, because it’s showing how to become someone like that.”

Aside from what the main characters bring to the stage, an additional aspect of the production is the a cappella chorus. Junior BFA acting major Atiauna Grant gives her debut performance in the role listed in the playbook simply as “Music.”

“I have always looked to music when I don’t know what else to do,” Grant said in an email interview Saturday. “In times of sadness or joy, I find that there is always a song. This show really takes you on an emotional journey and I wanted to do the same thing with the music. That’s what makes the story so beautiful, having these sounds that reflect the words being said.”

Carol Schidler, a Pittsburgh native, subscribes to both Playhouse series and saw the show on opening night. 

“I loved the singing. I wanted to get up and sing with them,” Schidler said at the Playhouse. “I thought it was superb and the story was very good. I like Toni Morrison anything.”

This production, among other themes, is about breaking the boundaries of what beauty is supposed to look like in America – not just relative to the 1940s, but also to the present. 

“This is the story of what happens when we turn a blind eye – when we allow a child to be consumed by the world around them,” Grant said. “There are so many Pecolas in the world and we have to tell their story. We have to get young girls to see that blonde hair and blue eyes are not the only way to be beautiful. When we tell this story, we are showing them that glowing black skin and big brown eyes are nothing to be ashamed of.” 

“I love the challenge that The Bluest Eye brings; it’s a story that needs to be shared,” Thomas said. “It’s the story of America. It’s our history. Sharing it will bring healing to people and will bring awareness to things that are still going on at this time.” 

COPA students that were cast in the production of “The Bluest Eye” underwent a three-part audition process in order to become part of the production. 

“There aren’t a lot of black students at Point Park University or in COPA, and the audition process was very competitive, because most of the African American actors are excellent,” Thomas said. “It was a very long process with callbacks.” 

Tickets are free to students at the box office for the show with a valid Point Park ID. 

 

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